Algerians stage new mass protests against Bouteflika

Algerians stage new mass protests against Bouteflika
Despite the rain, thousands of Algerians took to the streets for the fifth Friday in a row, demanding President Bouteflika live up to his promise to resign.
3 min read
22 March, 2019
Algerians take part in a demonstration against President Bouteflika on March 22 in Algiers [AFP/Getty]
Thousands of Algerians are demonstrating in major cities for the fifth straight Friday in a row since protests against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika began on 22 February - sparked by his declaration he would run for a fifth term.

The number of those demanding the resignation of 82-year-old President Bouteflika was much smaller than predicted by organisers, however, as rain appeared to dampen attendance. This is in contrast with the past two Fridays, when record numbers of protesters hit the streets of Algiers.

"Even if it's raining, the ruling system won't be the one making the weather look nice for us, it will be us," said Slim, 38. 

Families joined professionals and students in the central squares of the capital Algiers holding signs reading "Get Out, Bouteflika" and "No Mandate Extension".

"People attend to make fun of the regime. Today, they brought a DJ downtown to the main Didouche Mourad Avenue, to show how peaceful they are," journalist Massinissa Benlakehal, told The New Arab from Algiers. 

"Protestors say they are determined not to give up and that their movement is set to continue, as over 2,000 members of the president's allied party Democratic National Rally (RND), led by former Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, left the party and rallied the protest movement."

Security sources cited demonstrations in 40 out of the North African country’s 48 provinces. Many had also travelled far to attend demonstrations in the capital.

"I will march every Friday, until there is a radical change" to the system, said Younes Laroussi, an unemployed 24-year-old from Tiaret, 270 kilometres (170 miles) from Algiers.

Bouteflika last week indefinitely postponed April's national election and overhauled the government. While he abandoned his bid for a fifth term in office, his simultaneous postponement of the election has critics worried that he intends to extend his 20-year-rule indefinitely.

Bouteflika, badly weakened by a 2013 stroke, has remained an enigma, with very few public appearances. The president returned to Algeria earlier this month after two weeks in a Geneva hospital for "routine medical checks", but the exact state of his health is unclear.

Workers at Sonatrach, the national oil company whose executives are close to Bouteflika, held a symbolic sit-in Thursday in solidarity with the protests that span all sections of society.

Bouteflika's hold on power is waning. The head of his party, National Liberation Front (FLN) declared on Wednesday it supports the popular protests that have gripped the country.

New Prime Minister Nourredine Bedoui has promised to create a new cabinet within days to respond to the demands of Algeria's demonstrators. Yet, Bedoui is still struggling to form a government, with many potential candidates seeking to keep their distance from the unpopular president.

Authorities have pledged to hold a "national conference" to discuss reforms, followed by a referendum on a new constitution and eventually the election of a new president.

The protest movement has been led by students, in a country where half the population is under the age of 30 and youth unemployment has spurred anger against a government seen as out of touch.

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab